This is Part XVIII of the “31 Days of Healthy Living” series.
“How do you handle stress?”
I asked myself this question this morning at—oh, I dunno—somewhere between 7:15 and 7:20AM.
I was driving down the highway, heading to a (very scary/exciting/nerve racking) dietetic job interview, and all of a suddenly the traffic came to a crawl, a step, a stop.
There was the question again.
“How do you handle stress?”
“Pretty well, actually,” I smiled to myself.
I took a sip of my coffee, scanning the sun coming over the horizon with a gentle fierceness that woke the world with its glaring rays.
Ah yes. The guilty subject in today’s sudden traffic jam.
And then the traffic moved on.
The interview came and went.
Stressful, yes. But again, it didn’t amount to much.
And then, later in the night, I found myself feeling more and more on edge.
It might have had something to do with this scarf valance that I picked up at JCPenney’s.
This was all in an attempt to update my bedroom, which I’m currently in the middle of remodeling.
Mom held the middle of the valence.
And then I attempted to artfully fluff the ends, drawing in a nice “fan” as pictured above.
For an hour. Two hours. Three!
(that question again)
“How do you handle stressful situations?”
I’ll tell you.
First, I whined.
Then I tied a giant gaudy bow in the curtain and stated that it looked like a rag.
And then I had a big bowl of oatmeal for dinner, because all I wanted was something carbohydrate based.
Sad but true.
Ironically enough, I was reading a very interesting article in Psychology Today, about how our body reacts to stressful situations.
When we’re stressed, our body sends out a hormone called cortisol which keeps us pumped and ready for action (it also gives us that racing heart when someone cuts us off on the highway!) Cortisol can shut itself off by signaling this message to the brain, which is convenient during short term stress.
Long term stress however (say you’re at the end of a stressful day, dealing with an unruly curtain..wink, wink 😉 ) causes other nodes in the brain to make you want those rich, energy dense foods. You know. Chocolate. Ice cream.
The problem is when long term stress happens time and time again, and when food becomes the very sole source that we turn to.
We pile on those rich, heavy foods, which turns into unwanted abdominal fat, which in turn greatly increases our risks for diabetes and heart disease (and the dreaded metabolic syndrome.)
In other words, stress causes us to overeat. Which makes us put on unwanted weight. Which makes us more at risk for health problems. Which makes us more stressed.
What a cycle!
How should we handle stress?
Well, let’s face it. We’ll all have stressful days when we could care less about eating our vegetables and we care more about calming our racing mind.
But if this is a common occurrence, there are ways to combat the issue. The same article in Psychology Today recommends exercising, yoga, and hot baths, which have all been proven to give our brains the same relief that food does.
The next time you feel drawn towards your chocolate stash (or towards eating big bowls of oatmeal with coconut and chocolate chips for dinner…oops!), take a deep breath, do a few stretches, go for a light stroll, take a hot bath or journal/read in the Bible/do some jumping jacks.
Give yourself 10 minutes to just unwind in this way. It can make all the difference!
And it’s also important to pinpoint those stressful situations in our lives and make them better.
In other words?
I’m returning the silly curtain.
QUESTION: Are you a “stress eater?” What are some of your secrets in avoiding this?